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Youth centers bustle, but violence continues in Syracuse

Youth centers in Syracuse are bustling as they work for violence intervention and prevention.

Youth centers in Syracuse are bustling as they work for violence intervention and prevention. Photo by Ned Campbell.

— Gun shots rang out on Furman Street late last month, leaving a teenager, not even old enough to drive, critically injured.

The mid-day shooting was the latest in a spate of violent criminal activity involving teenagers, a problem Syracuse Police say is growing.

“We’ve seen more and more involvement by youths,” Sgt. Tom Connellan said. “This is a trend, not just in Syracuse, with younger kids being involved in gangs.”

The police department hasn’t made an arrest in that case, which also brought minor injuries to a 17-year-old, but say it has the “earmarkings” of a gang-related case. Gangs, Connellan said, are responsible for a large amount of the violence in the city.

“We are, on a regular basis, catching juveniles with weapons,” he said. Teens are often recruited to the gangs because of the prosecuting laws — organized crime is prosecutable by the federal government, unless the individual involved is under the age of 18.

“A lot of these gangs recruit younger kids to be a part of the gang and use them to commit some of the crime because they know the punishments will be lesser for juveniles,” Connellan said. “These kids are trying to make a means for themselves, they get recruited to do a lot of this stuff. Older kids know the consequences are less for juveniles.”

Getting involved in the gangs has a lot to do with the family life at home, and sometimes, the lack of a family life.

Everybody wants to belong somewhere and if you don’t have that family structure, you’re going to look for it somewhere else. The gang becomes their family.

— Sgt. Tom Connellan

“A lot of kids nowadays are being raised not just by parents, but by their grandparents, because the parents are in jail or not around,” Connellan said. “Unfortunately, the grandparents are older and they’ve been through this already. The kids are out at all hours and sometimes the grandparents are having a hard time controlling them. Everybody wants to belong somewhere and if you don’t have that family structure, you’re going to look for it somewhere else. The gang becomes their family.”

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